16.39: Deep Dive into “Event”

Your Hosts: Dan Wells, C.L. PolkCharlotte Forfieh, and Mary Robinette Kowal

Our fifth M.I.C.E. Quotient episode focuses on the “Event” element, and explores how to use disruption of the status quo as the driving element for story. From plumbing problems to alien invasions, event stories are often structured by telling how difficult it is to return to normal, whether you’re getting the aliens off the planet, or the water back into the pipes.

Credits: This episode was recorded by Marshall Carr, Jr., and mastered by Alex Jackson

Play

Use the same fairy tale as last week, and strip out every element that is not Event.

When Sorrows Come, by Seanan McGuire

16.38: Deep Dive into “Character”

Your Hosts: Dan Wells, C.L. PolkCharlotte Forfieh, and Mary Robinette Kowal

Our fourth M.I.C.E. Quotient episode explores the “Character” element, and how these angsty, navel-gazing voyages of self-examination can serve either as complete stories or as elements in other stories. Also, we talk about how to do this in ways that don’t result in readers complaining about “navel-gazing” or “angsty.”

Credits: This episode was recorded by Marshall Carr, Jr., and mastered by Alex Jackson

Play

You’ve figured it out by now, right? Use the same fairy tale as last week (and the week before, and the week before that) and strip out every element that is not Character.

Popisho (US) This One Sky Day (UK), by Leone Ross

16.37: Deep Dive Into “Inquiry”

Your Hosts: Dan Wells, C.L. PolkCharlotte Forfieh, and Mary Robinette Kowal

Our third M.I.C.E. Quotient episode asks about the “Inquiry” element, and the ways in which we can use this element to structure our stories—whether we’re writing murder mysteries, thrillers, or anything else in which the turning of pages asks and eventually answers questions.

Credits: This episode was recorded by Marshall Carr, Jr., and mastered by Alex Jackson

Play

Use the same fairy tale as last week, and strip out every element that is not Inquiry.

Even Though I Knew the End, by C.L. Polk (a noir fantasy novella available in 2022)

16.36: Deep Dive into “Milieu”

Your Hosts: Dan Wells, C.L. Polk, Charlotte Forfieh, and Mary Robinette Kowal

The M.I.C.E. Quotient is an organizational tool which categorizes story elements as Milieu, Inquiry, Character, or Event. In this second  episode we cover “Milieu,” and how stories can be driven by a sense of place.

Credits: This episode was recorded by Marshall Carr, Jr., and mastered by Alex Jackson

Play

Pick a fairy tale, and strip out every element that is not Milieu.

The Zero Chronicles, by Dan Wells

16.35: What is the M.I.C.E. Quotient?

Your Hosts: Dan Wells, C.L. Polk, Charlotte Forfieh, and Mary Robinette Kowal

The next eight episodes are a deep dive into the M.I.C.E. Quotient, so we’ll begin with a definition. M.I.C.E. is an organizational tool which categorizes story elements as Milieu, Inquiry, Character, or Event. It helps authors know which elements are in play, and how to work with these elements effectively.

Obviously there’s a lot more to M.I.C.E. than that, and in this episode we’ll lay it out in a way that makes the subsequent seven M.I.C.E.-related episodes much easier to navigate.

Credits: This episode was recorded by Marshall Carr, Jr., and mastered by Alex Jackson

Play

Seriously… watch The Wizard of Oz, and take notes. Track the M.I.C.E. elements, and how they nest in the story at every scale.

The Wizard of Oz (the 1939 film)

16.34: Novels Are Layer Cakes

Your Hosts: DongWon Song, Mary Robinette Kowal, Dan Wells, and Howard Tayler

Novels deliver a lot of information, and it’s helpful to consider that delivery in terms of layers. Novels are layer cakes, and we’re not talking about a three-layer birthday cake. We’re talking about a dobosh torte, or a mille crepe cake. And if we’ve made you hungry for stratified pastry, that’s okay, because we made ourselves hungry, too.

Credits: This episode was recorded by Marshall Carr, Jr., and mastered by Alex Jackson

Play

Remove your entire 1st scene from your draft. Rewrite it from scratch, using the tools we’ve covered in the last eight episodes. Once you’ve done that, revise it by highlighting the elements readers really need to know, and then put all of those ideas into a single paragraph.

Legend, by Marie Lu

16.33: Tell, Don’t Show

Your Hosts: DongWon Song, Mary Robinette Kowal, Dan Wells, and Howard Tayler

Few pieces of writing advice get repeated as much as that old saw “show, don’t tell.” We’re here to show tell you that it’s not only not universally applicable, much of the time it’s wrong¹. Tell, don’t show, especially in the early pages of the book when so very, very much information needs to be delivered² quickly.

Credits: This episode was recorded by Marshall Carr, Jr., and mastered by Alex Jackson


¹ Fun fact: this advice comes to us from silent film, when it made great artistic sense to put things on screen rather than on title cards.
² If you need new terminology, Dan uses “demonstration vs. description.” 

Play

Rewrite your whole first scene as narration. See what parts work better and what doesn’t work. Keep the better bits, and work them into the next draft.

Jade City, by Fonda Lee

16.32: First Page Fundamentals—THE KILLING FLOOR, by Lee Childs

Your Hosts: DongWon Song, Mary Robinette Kowal, Dan Wells, and Howard Tayler

In this episode we explore the first page of The Killing Floor, by Lee Childs, with the goal of learning how to build  good first pages for own own work.

Credits: This episode was recorded by Marshall Carr, Jr., and mastered by Alex Jackson

Liner Notes: here is the 1st paragraph of The Killing Floor, for reference.

I was arrested in Eno’s diner. At twelve o’clock. I was eating eggs and drinking coffee. A late breakfast, not lunch. I was wet and tired after a long walk in heavy rain. All the way from the highway to the edge of town.

The diner was small, but bright and clean. Brand-new, built to resemble a converted railroad car. Narrow, with a long lunch counter on one side and a kitchen bumped out back. Booths lining the opposite wall. A doorway where the center booth would be.

I was in a booth, at a window, reading somebody’s abandoned newspaper about the campaign for a president I didn’t vote for last time and wasn’t going to vote for this time. Outside, the rain had stopped but the glass was still pebbled with bright drops. I saw the police cruisers pull into the gravel lot. They were moving fast and crunched to a stop. Light bars flashing and popping. Red and blue light in the raindrops on my window. Doors burst open, policemen jumped out. Two from each car, weapons ready. Two revolvers, two shotguns. This was heavy stuff. One revolver and one shotgun ran to the back. One of each rushed the door.

Play

Ghost Station, by Dan Wells

Write an introduction that focuses on the character’s view of the world